Groups of tenants’ advocates marched through Downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday from the Housing Court on Livingston Street to the office of the eviction marshal on Atlantic Avenue as they called on the Legislature to pass bills that would prevent evictions.
There are currently no evictions proceeding in New York State. However, the moratorium that is stopping them runs out at the end of September. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has routinely extended the moratorium, but he usually waits until a few days before it is set to expire, causing panic from lawyers who represent tenants as well as landlords.
Tuesday’s march in Brooklyn was organized by Housing Justice for All members, as well as members from New York Communities for Change, Make the Road NY, Crown Heights Tenant Union, Met Council on Housing, Flatbush Tenants Coalition, HOPE: Housing Organizers for People Empowerment, and NYC-DSA.
Those groups called upon Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to pass bills sponsored by State Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Karines Reyes. They say the bills would eliminate evictions and foreclosures for a full year from the end of the pandemic.
Nearly 60 million American workers have filed for unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Department of Labor.
Housing Court Judge Daniele Chinea, who serves as the president of the Housing Court Judges Association, recently took an opportunity when speaking with the State Legislature to urge them to step up to present an alternative solution to what she called a “looming crisis” in the Housing Court.
“The pandemic is ongoing with no end in sight, and the economic impacts are only beginning to be felt and will continue for years to come,” said Judge Chinea. “And yet we, the Housing Court judges, are being asked to conduct business as usual in terms of applying the law and exercising our discretion.”
The court system has stepped in to supplement executive orders issued by Governor Cuomo in the past by issuing its own administrative orders to extend moratoriums. Recently, though, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks warned the Legislature that it didn’t feel it has the authority to suspend eviction cases and that it would be unable to do so again following Oct. 1.
“Oct. 1, for us, might be a hard deadline,” Justice Marks said. He added, “We are the judiciary, not the policy-making branch of the government. We urge you to focus on this problem and not rely on us to do that.”
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it will use its authority to temporarily ban residential evictions for certain renters. However, tenant advocates warned that this plan has left open many loopholes that will leave New Yorkers vulnerable. This moratorium will expire at the end of 2020.
“An eviction moratorium is critical right now to prevent mass displacement and homelessness,” said a statement issued by a spokesperson from the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. “But the CDC’s moratorium does little for NY tenants except add another layer of confusion for NY tenants. Instead of acknowledging that all evictions are a public health crisis, the CDC offers limited protections for certain tenants.”
In August, similar groups took part in protests of attorneys who are known to represent landlords. In one instance, an attorney said that dozens of people entered her office and harassed her and two female employees. This caused the Kings County Housing Court Bar Association to issue a statement pleading for protesters to direct their attacks at the government and to point out that in Brooklyn many practitioners represent both landlords and tenants.
“A group of self-proclaimed ‘activists’ have recently deemed it appropriate to invade the offices of attorneys who represent landlords and disrupt their businesses and, in some cases, vandalize those attorneys’ offices,” said a statement issued by the Bar Association.
“This is never appropriate and cannot be condoned or allowed to happen,” the statement continued. “Those ‘activist’ actions are misguided, wrongheaded and illegal. What these self-appointed activists forget is that most so-called ‘landlord firms’ also represent tenants who also are entitled to zealous representation.”